Despite a final score-line of 34-10 at the Jules Ladoumeque Stadium in Massy, Paris on Saturday evening, this was far from an easy victory for France over a gallant Ireland Under-19 side, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
UNDER-19 INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY: Saturday, April 5
FRANCE U-19 34 IRELAND U-19 10, Jules Ladoumeque Stadium, Massy, Paris
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Matt Healy; Con: David Mcllwaine; Pen: David McIlwaine
With an injury to Crescent College out-half Andrew Burke prior to the game, it forced a reshuffle in the Irish back-line with Ian McKinley moving to number 10 and David Funston being sprung from the bench to start at inside centre.
Burke may have been a major loss but both McKinley and Funston were influential in the game and perhaps unlucky that their strong impact, did not reflect on the scoresheet as the visitors showed plenty of effort but, in the end, fell short against a determined French side.
France led by 12-3 at half-time with David McIlwaine kicking a penalty for the visitors but Charlie McAleese’s side dug deep and only trailed by 22-10 with two minutes of normal time remaining.
However the French got in for two late tries and a penalty kick to ensure a somewhat flattering final score-line.
Ireland found it hard to cope with France’s physicality in the opening stages, but McAleese’s charges still held a lot of possession and were unlucky, 15 minutes in, when McKinley and Johnny Shields launched an attack.
An attempted lay-off to Derry youngster Funston failed to work, with Funston tackled before receiving the ball, and Ireland had to be content with a penalty kick, which McIlwaine converted.
The Irish failed to give up and made a good start to the second half by putting France under major pressure up front.
Some seriously effective forward play established a great platform from which Matt Healy broke on the blindside from the 22 and made a clear run to claim Ireland’s only try, ten minutes into the second half, which McIlwaine converted.
Ireland continued to pile on the pressure, however France battled hardest in the final minutes and a late flourish of scores ensured they finished as convincing winners.
Ireland manager John McKibbin was not making any excuses when he spoke to IrishRugby.ie after the game.
“The margin of victory certainly flattered France. They were a very strong and big physical team and the guys fought very, very hard and put up a good performance.
“We had as many attacking movements as France but in the end, the physical difference began to tell in the second half. Their two late intercepts were very disappointing.”
Ireland beat Italy 23-0 at Malahide RFC recently and while this 24-point defeat was a stark turnaround for the squad, McKibbin was still upbeat about what they have achieved in this short season.
“The lads have certainly developed very well since we brought them together before Christmas and a lot of players are now playing much better rugby.
“This side has a lot of potential and we’ll definitely see three or four of them in action for the Under-20s in the IRB Junior World Champoinship in Wales this summer,” he added.
IRELAND UNDER-19 TEAM & REPLACEMENTS v FRANCE:
15 – David McIlwaine (Queen’s University/Ulster)
14 – Gary Foley (CBC Monkstown/Leinster)
13 – Johnny Shields (Coleraine AI/Ulster)
12 – David Funston (City of Derry/Ulster)
11 – Kyle Kirkpatrick (Ards/Ulster)
10 – Ian McKinley (St. Columba’s College/Leinster)
9 – Conor Murray (Young Munster/Munster)
1 – Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
2 – Thomas Sexton (Belvedere College/Leinster)
3 – Adam Macklin (Methody College Belfast/Ulster)
4 – Ciaran Ruddock (Neath/Exiles)
5 – Mark Flanagan (UCD/Leinster)
6 – Peter O’Mahoney (PBC Cork/Munster) (capt)
7 – Sean Dougall (Barnard Castle/Exiles)
8 – Michael Noone (CBC Monkstown/Leinster)
Replacements used: Shane Grannell (CBC Monkstown/Leinster) for Noone (50 mins), Alan Whitten (Instonians/Ulster) for Macklin, David McGregor for Sexton, Matt Healey (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Murray (all 55), John O’Brien (Connemara/Connacht) for Foley, Elliott O’Brien (Henley Hawks/Exiles) for Funston, Gavin Duffy (UCC/Munster) for McGrath (all 62).